Ten Museums That Don't Exist In D.C. ... Yet

Nathaniel Koch


Jun 28, 2017

D.C. is both a tourist spend-zone and a national stage, and at times it can seem that everyone with a vault full of goodies (or an outreach program) wants to plant a museum here. By now you probably know that, come this fall, you'll be able to tour the latest big addition to the city's stock, the Museum of the Bible. But there are nine more museums you may not have heard of which plan (or hope) to open in the capital soon.

Museum of the Bible
When: Fall 2017
Where: 4th and D St. SW
Why: "To invite all people to engage with the history, narrative and impact of the Bible."
Trivia: The collection includes the first Bible to leave the Earth.

Unlike many planned or proposed D.C. museums, some of which have been foundering in the waters for decades, this one (by the Green family of Hobby Lobby) is on track to throw down the gangplank a mere nine years after its conception. Currently under construction at the site, two blocks from the Mall, the $400 million museum promises an experience augmented by major investments in technology. The enterprise hasn’t been without controversy, though. A number of artifacts en route to the museum have been seized by Customs agents over concerns of antiquities smuggling. The Atlantic also documented concerns in the scientific community over both the likelihood of illegal acquisitions and a secretive "parallel academic universe" that the family has funded to study the manuscripts.

Museum of Science Fiction
When: Unclear
Where: Coordinates still unknown.
Why: "To create a center of gravity where art and science are powered by imagination. Science fiction is the story of humanity: who we were, who we are, and who we dream to be."
Trivia: Since 2016, the Museum has published the heavy-duty Journal of Science Fiction (sample article title: "Evil doctor, ethical android: Star Trek's instantiation of conscience in subroutines").

The project began in 2013 with an Indiegogo campaign (and a bunch of Stormtroopers descending on the US. Capitol) to fund the first phase, a preview museum. Renderings promised life-sized replicas of famous aliens in pop culture, a replica of Jules Verne's home study, and a giant reproduction of Wells' War of the Worlds' alien tripods. The organizers fell nearly $100,000 shy of the goal, but pledged to press onward. They’ve since held a design competition for the preview museum, organized another crowdfunding campaign for a specific exhibition, and announced partnerships with D.C. Public Library and NASA. In the meantime, check out the (unaffiliated) Science Fiction

National Museum of the United States Army
When: 2019
Where: Fort Belvoir, VA.
Why: "[To] celebrate the selfless service and sacrifice of over 30 million men and women who have worn the Army uniform since 1775."
Trivia: There are already National Museums of the Navy (Navy Yard, DC), Air Force (Dayton, OH), and Marine Corps (Triangle, VA); a Coast Guard museum is in the works for New London, CT.

D.C. wasn’t just named for and planned by military men; in its modern form, it was more or less made by a war and its officers (notably military engineer Montgomery Meigs). During the 1860s, it was the most heavily fortified city in the world. Though this new Army museum is not in the District, it’s big and close enough to merit a mention—and it will surely contain material relevant to the city’s development. It already has boots on the ground: construction of the buildings started in March 2017. Why should civilians care? “Army history is American history,” Army Historical Foundation spokesman Gen. Gordon Sullivan said at the museum’s ground-breaking ceremony last September. Construction is well under-way; the Army Historical Foundation has more information.

Planet Word Museum
When: Winter 2019
Where: 13th and K streets NW (The Franklin School)
Why: “To inspire a love of words and language…because language is essential to every aspect of our lives. Indeed the very strength of our democracy depends upon having a literate population that can understand and address today’s complex issues.”
Trivia: Museum patron Ann Friedman is married to the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman.

In 2014, newly elected Mayor Bowser scrapped a deal to turn the unused Franklin School (at long-neglected Franklin Square) into a center for contemporary art, claiming the project wasn’t raising enough money (the folks behind the museum strenuously denied that). Earlier this year, the city announced that the site would now be used for an interactive linguistics museum called Planet Word. The new tenant’s founder, Ann Friedman, a real-estate heiress and a former teacher, has promised to put up at least $20 million of her own money toward the museum’s costs of $30 million or more. Admission to Planet Word—one of a handful of language museums in the world, along with Paris’ Mundolingua—will be free. Just what will be in the museum—its web site promises “innovative, playful and immersive exhibits” (and no Oxford commas?)—remains unclear.

Explore! Children's Museum
When: 2019
Where: 4th St & South Dakota Ave NE (Fort Totten).
Why: "[To be a museum] that engages children and the District at many levels."
Trivia: The Museum is currently collaborating with the National Portrait Gallery on a year-long hands-on pop-up (currently open at the Gallery) for tots and small children.

Developer-philanthropist Jane Cafritz's project is not to be confused with its older cousin, the National Children's Museum (see below). Although the National Zoo draws tourists with kids away from downtown and out on the Red Line, Explore!’s Fort Totten location is likely to make Cafritz’s planned museum more of a regional than a national attraction. After the museum opens, Explore! will continue to operate its Mission Mobile, a converted school bus that takes schoolkids (grades 4-6) on 75-minute missions (like simulated travel though the human body or outer space). In the meantime, check out Bethesda’s (unaffiliated) workshop-based KID Museum and Children’s Playseum, and Fairfax’s Children’s Science Center.

National Women's History Museum
When: Whenever Congress gets its act together
Where: The favored site for this private museum is at 12th & Independence Ave SW.
Why: "[It] educates, inspires, empowers, and shapes the future by integrating women's distinctive history into the culture and history of the United States".
Trivia: Pre-Trump, Meryl Streep was the spokesperson.

Not to be confused with D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts (1250 New York Ave NW) or the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca, NY (the birthplace, in revolutionary 1848, of the American women’s rights movement). The NWHM project started in 1996, then (before the convening of a Congressional Commission) weathered a 2014 controversy involving the dismissal of a group of historians. After 21 years, they are still looking for a home and Congressional support. The closest they've come is a report released by a Congressional commission outlining recommendations for the museum.

National Museum of the American People
When: Unclear
Where: The favored site is near L'Enfant Plaza, not far from the new Wharf.
Why: "To advance and disseminate knowledge about the history of the making of the American People and to have visitors take pride in the story as well as to reflect upon moral questions that are raised by it."
Trivia: NMAP's 200-plus supporting organizations include the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Daughters of the American Revolution, The Korea Society, and the Council of Scottish Clans & Associations.

This museum got rolling in 2008; a set of renderings was released in 2011. "It's the only American museum that will tell the story of the making of the American people [from prehistoric times through today]", director Sam Eskenazi (formerly of the Holocaust Museum) told me by phone. He described it as "a storytelling museum", one that he envisions having a restaurant with food from “four quadrants: Asian, African, European, and the Americas”. In December, organizers announced they would pursue two different tracks for moving forward: Congressional support and private backers.

National Children's Museum
When: Still unclear
Where: Was recently in talks over a spot at the Ronald Reagan Building.
Why: "[It] houses activities that honor kids’ voices and reflect themes that speak to them as they learn about and engage with the world around them."
Trivia: It is the official (as designated by Congress in 2003) national museum for children.

The NCM was founded back in 1974, and it had a brick-and-mortar location at H Street NE and then at National Harbor. Since the (too-small) National Harbor location closed in 2014, the science-focused museum, which missed a planned 2015 reopening, has been looking for a way and a place to re-open in D.C.

National Irish American Museum
When: Anyone's guess
Where: Somewhere in the D.C. area.
Why: "To recognize and honor the history and contributions of the Irish in America...The museum will honor all those who claim Irish and Scots-Irish ancestry...Irish will be [taken] to include all Irish, those from the North and the South, those of all religious and political persuasion and shall include the Scots-Irish."
Trivia: The gentrifying neighborhood now known as NoMa was once an Irish slum called Swampoodle.

Early 19th-century Washington's canals were largely built by Irish workers, and according to contemporary chronicler D. B. Warden (and you can half believe this) nearly half the population of the capital in the early years was of Irish origin. The Irish are the United States' third-largest ethnic group, after Germans (who have a Chinatown museum, the German-American Heritage Museum) and African Americans (more than a million people visited the National Museum of African American History And Culture in less than six months). Founding Director and businessman James B. Dougherty and the Irish American Museum project are based in Greenwich, CT. Not to be confused with the (unaffiliated) Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany, NY.

National American Latino Museum
When: Whenever Congress gets its act together
Where: Possibly the Arts & Industries Building on the National Mall
Why: "To educate, inspire and encourage respect and understanding of the richness and diversity of the American Latino experience within the U.S. and its territories by highlighting the contributions made by Latino leaders, pioneers and communities to the American way of life."
Trivia: A Clinton-era Smithsonian task force found that the Institution "almost entirely excludes and ignores the Latino population of the United States" and noted "the lack of a single museum facility focusing on Latino or Latin American art, culture, or history."

The idea germinated in the 1990s; in 2011, a Commission (which ahd been appointed in 2008) delivered the results of a feasibility study. Although it’s anyone’s guess when and where this might actually happen, something of a preview is in the works. The Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall (the currently empty building next to the merry-go-round) is being developed to focus on entrepreneurship and innovation, but a part of the building will be used for a Latino gallery. The building has been floated as a possibility for the permanent museum, but additional space would be needed.